Waterfowl managers also assess the status of duck and goose populations each year. They consider the numbers of birds in this year's population and account for the numbers that are produced, those that die (including harvest), and where the birds go during migration (distribution). Managers have well-established methods of monitoring waterfowl populations and measuring waterfowl harvests. Aerial surveys, banding, and harvest questionnaires are in standard practice to determine waterfowl numbers, distribution, and harvests.
Surveys of breeding habitat are annually conducted in conjunction with efforts to determine duck breeding populations. For the most part, the same calculus used to measure waterfowl populations and harvest is used to assess the status of different habitats. The waterfowl habitat outlook is evaluated by determining acreage currently protected, the rate of habitat loss, how many acres could potentially be restored and managed in the future, and which regions are experiencing net habitat gains or losses.
For the purpose of long-term conservation planning, managers conduct national wetland inventories and landscape-level assessments of land use trends and emerging threats to habitat. This information is used to strategically allocate conservation resources for the acquisition, restoration, and management of remaining waterfowl habitat and to inform public policy that influences landscapes important to waterfowl.
Measuring hunting participation
To predict future waterfowl hunting participation, we must determine how many people are actively hunting today, how many are being recruited, how many are dropping out, and how many hunt less than on an annual basis. Perhaps the best measure of hunting participation is the sale of federal duck stamps. Over time, duck stamp sales have generally followed trends in duck populations and hunting regulations, with peak sales of almost 2.5 million stamps occurring during the 1950s and again in the 1970s. This trend began to break down during the mid-1990s when many duck populations bounced back and hunting regulations were liberalized. While waterfowl hunting participation remains quite strong with an average annual sale of 1.6 million duck stamps during the past decade, stamp sales have not recovered to the levels of the 1970s.
Why not? The answer is fairly straightforward—numbers of hunters are not being replaced at the rate they are being lost. Initial work to determine hunter recruitment, retention, and turnover suggests that over the last decade, less than one-third of waterfowl hunters hunted every year. Another 5 percent were lost each year, and the remainder hunted only sporadically. This means that about two-thirds of the waterfowl hunting population is in a state of flux. Obviously, over the last 15 years or so, rates of hunter recruitment have not been adequate to ensure growth in the base of support experienced in the past.